From Mono-Normative to Poly-Normative? Reflections on queer relational projects and (non-)monogamies
(II European Geographies of Sexualities Conference, Lisbon, September 5th – 7th)
Convened by: Daniel Cardoso (Media and Journalism Research Center, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences – New University of Lisbon; Lusophone University of Humanities and Technology)
Although the history of polyamory-as-identity is as recent as early 1990s (Cardoso, 2011), there is already considerable theoretical and activist impetus towards moving beyond it. Wilkinson (2010) gives a consistent critique of how non-monogamies have been meticulously appropriated into neo-liberalism, and Pepper Mint (2007) has argued that we should not necessarily conflate queer and polyamorous communities. And although mainstream media visibility of polyamory is growing, it is selective in what it portrays (Zanin, 2013). Furthermore, whilst there have been advancements in formal LGBT rights, polyamory is sometimes framed as being a hindrance to the process (Vale de Almeida, 2008). In this context polynormativity remains an ever-open possibility, where even vocal communities seem to be reticent to battle for formal legal changes (Aviram, 2008).
Responding to Barker and Langdridge’s (2010) call for “more attention to diversities of meanings and practices, […] and the troubling of dichotomous understandings”, this panel seeks to understand the varied geo-temporalities of mononormativity and polynormativity, and the ways in which these concepts interact with individualism, capitalism, feminism, queer theory, queer/LGBT activism, politics, law, and also personal accounts of discrimination and privilege.
As such, we invite empirical and/or theoretical papers that critically and contextually analyze the tensions and (re)productions of normativities as it pertains to (non-) monogamies. Interesting topics might be, but are not limited to:
- (Non-)monogamies, normativity and LGBT activism;
- Coupledom as (macro and micro-)social expectation
- Media representations of (non-)monogamies
- Queer politics and (non-)monogamies
- Future projects for polyamory/consensual non-monogamies activism
- Everyday life, (non-)monogamies and discrimination
- Geo-historically contextualizing mono and poly normativities
- (Romantic) Intimacies and normativity
- Femininities, masculinities and (non-)monogamies
- Neoliberal/capitalist appropriation: methods and resistance
- ‘Race’ and non-western experiences of consensual (non-)monogamies
In this presentation, we will try to frame the appearance of polyamory as an identity within the broader context of socio-cultural changes happening in Western contemporary culture. Through the theoretical framework of Nicholas Rose, Michel Foucault, Ulrich Beck, among others, we will attempt to demonstrate polyamory as a construct arising from three particular and distinctive aspects of western contemporary culture, as an individualized, sexualized and psychologized culture. Each aspect will be characterized and then linked back to the birth of polyamory as a concept; in turn, these links will be analyzed in their tensional characteristics between possible queer/non-normative life alternatives and a rehashing of neo-liberal/post-feminist discourse that can bring about an illusion of subjective empowerment. Of particular importance to this analysis is the role of Psychology, both as field of research into polyamory, and as a techno-social lens through which polyamory is enacted – and the ways through which such a framing might also align itself with neo-liberalism, or with a narrowing down of the political, sexual, social and philosophical implications of polyamory and other critical/consensual non-monogamies.
Keywords: polyamory, sexuality, individualization, psychologization
Symposium presented at the IASR 2012, on July 11th, 2012, with the participation of Sari van Anders, Alex Iantaffi and Daniel Cardoso.
Below are the materials presented at the conference, as well as the audio recordings of the event, in English.
Abstracts and Presentations...
This panel’s intention is to demonstrate how, more and more, the notion of a relationship identity and the way it shapes people’s sexual and intimate behaviors has become central to conducting research around sexualities. Our intention is to critically acknowledge but also question the modes of existence of polyamory and of polyamorous subjectivities, dealing with issues of definitions (or lack thereof), research practices and the tensions between normativization and the queering of practices and theories. Our combined works will not only contextualize polyamory and its subjects within the field of (responsible) non-monogamies, but also make it interact with mononormativity and, also, possible emergent forms of polyamorous normativities.
We are then taken to the issue of what a polyamorous subjectivity can be, how can it be constituted and also how - in a seemingly contradictory way - this bid against mononormativity (and thus, against the notion that monogamy can be seen as superior or more desirable), makes sex an especially controversial (but nonetheless central) issue: an issue often to be discursively avoided in an attempt at a possible social respectability stemming from the emphasis given to feelings (and, hence, -”amory”).
This is a written conversation between myself and Pepper Mint, over the course of about 6 months, in which we cover the connections between polyamory, ethics, power and the queer movements...
You can find an excerpt here:
Currently, what interests me the most (and since you offered your brains for the picking, so to say ;) ) is the importance of parrhēsia (frankness) in performing polyamory, how parrhēsia is in the core of polyamory (the poly “mantra” is all about parrhēsia), and how, more than anything else, polyamory produces a certain kind of moral (not so much sexual, or even sentimental) subject, through means reminiscent of the ancient Greek practices of the care of the self. It strikes me as deeply interesting how something that is usually seen as a relationship-centered affair (polyamory) is actually something very individual in nature (care of the self), albeit in a good way, and where the Other is never denied its rightful place.
So, indeed, “polyamory isn’t about the sex, except when it is”, but sex is then utilized as a medium to reach a different morality, and it’s interesting to see that several authors, like Gayle Rubin, have specifically said that someday a new moral/ethical posture will arise to deal with contemporary and post-modern sexual and emotional practices. Could poly be an extreme/refined/fringe example of such a new moral positioning?
Does any of this make sense to you?
I am reading “parrhēsia” as “honesty, disclosure, and communication”. I agree that parrhēsia is central to polyamorous ideology and practice, emphasized almost to a fault.
I think it is important to consider the source of this focus on parrhēsia, however. I don’t think it necessarily comes from a desire to have better relationships, except perhaps tangentially. Rather, I think it is a direct response to mono-normativity’s insistence that nonmonogamy must be deceitful, just cheating in another form.
Classic monogamy itself encourages deceit: most people must at least pretend not to be attracted to people other than their partner. Within monogamy, most attempts at having multiple partners tend to involve deceit, namely cheating (because otherwise you get dumped).
But at the same time, mono-normativity sets up cheaters as the Other, creating a false duality of monogamy versus cheating. This tends to give any kind of nonmonogamy an air of deceit, even when it is entirely honest and upfront.
The project of polyamory is to create a third path, something that is not monogamy but also is not cheating. Distinguishing ourselves from monogamy is easy – having multiple partners does that. However, distinguishing ourselves from cheating is extremely difficult due to the mono-normative culture’s insistence that anything other than monogamy must be deceitful.
This not only plays out in ideology but also in practice. Because deceit is worked into our monogamous training, and associated with nonmonogamy, we end up with a lot of cultural encouragement to deceive in nonmonogamous relationship situations, which tends to be fatal to the relationship due to the lack of cultural support.
Polyamory awareness-raising: An auto-ethnographic account of a round-table on polyamory and lesbianism
Inês Rôlo Martins
Stemming from the auto-ethnographic and personal recounting of a round-table organized by a lesbian-focused activist group in Lisbon, Portugal, the authors reflect on the intersections between doing research, spreading that research, doing activism and working with / listening to sexual minorities as a way of critically involving the LGBT community and their concerns in the scientific process. As we’ll see, conflicting political and identity agendas might create tension between different minorities, and even the reinstatement of (homo-)normativity. We claim that only through debate, exposure and recognition (which mixes research, scientific dissemination and activism) can we think «about an issue in a way that takes account of the perspectives of others» (Young, 2000), but that the modes of performing debate also need to be critically reflected upon, keeping in sight the ethical concern for the intimate citizenship (Plummer, 1994) of those represented (and of those absent).